Sunday 13 January 2019

The Magic Faraway Tree… Joe, Beth, Rick and Frannie?...

My new day job finds me re-visiting the echoes of my past in a nostalgic haven. When I found out Enid Blyton’s classics were on the list I was delighted, though apprehensive. ‘Didn’t they change the names?’ I asked. I mean ok, Fanny and Dick are undeniably dated, not to mention loaded with innuendo in today’s society, but just who are Joe, Beth, Frannie and Rick anyway?

That’s the thing… Dick and Fanny have connotations, I will admit, but they are connotations to the adult mind, and that is the point. The young Elloise found nothing at all wrong with her heroes’ names. She loved the Magic Faraway Tree, its bizarre and obnoxious inhabitants and the wonderful lands waiting to be discovered among its peaks. If you had told her what fanny meant she would not have been at all interested, telling you to shush so she could see what would happen in the Topsy, Turvy land.

So why did the names get changed? To update them for a modern reader, apparently. I find myself wondering why other books and films of my childhood have not been ‘outlawed’ and re-released in such a fashion. I can think of a plethora of children’s films, even newer ones being released today, which are absolutely rife with adult connotations entirely unsuitable – and let’s face it downright unsavoury – when you consider they are found spattered in between the innocent scenes of children’s films. One only has to switch on the radio or flick onto Youtube to find children reciting the most inappropriate lyrics.

So are Dick and Fanny really so offensive? And just what did Bessie do to deserve the same treatment? Ok, I told myself… have to get on board with this. Have to accept the changes. I found an ebook, a very good reading, as it happens, by Kate Winslet, but no matter how much attention I pay, Frannie is Fanny. Is it you, Kate? Are you reading the original names in subtle protest to this updating? Or is it my brain substituting what it knows to be the original, pure words of this favourite author of my childhood?

Try as I may, I cannot follow these characters’ adventures as much as I did their original counterparts. Frannie is just not as much fun. (See what I did there? A six-year-old wouldn’t.) Rick is the less interesting cousin. By changing the original, some magic, some of that pure, original intention is gone. I have to wonder… instead of censoring our literature, shouldn’t we focus on censoring our society, so that these juvenile, outdated and frankly not that amusing innuendos get censored instead? Would we really suffer if the word ‘dick’ were no longer so amusing?

Just where did it all start anyway? In the follies of our past, where racism, sexism, and all of the other isms were acceptable. Time has moved on. Thankfully our understanding and tolerance has moved on. And now it is time to focus that understanding and tolerance in the right place. Leave Dick and Fanny where they should be, and focus on censoring the right things, before we destroy childhood happiness for the wrong reasons.

I am yet to decide whether I will read the new names out loud to ensure consistency with the modern text or whether I will stick firm to the originals in homage to their time and nostalgic brilliance. Whichever I choose, internally I will not forget where this thought led me today, and will strive never to compensate for the wrong reasons.

Elloise Hopkins.

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